It is excitement and anxiety in equal measure for 12-year-old Sujal Kahar. Chosen to represent India at the fifth FIFA Football for Friendship global program, featuring more than 60 nations, he is the goalkeeper for one of the four teams to be fielded in the eight-a-side competition in St. Petersburg, Russia, in July.
For the youngster from Parel, leaving home and teammates behind to play football in Russia would likely be a cultural shock. He does not know what to expect, hence the worry along with excitement at being part of an international event.
The highpoint would be the chance to watch the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017 final match at St. Petersburg.
The Mumbai lad was picked after a selection trial involving 20 young goalkeepers from across India, short-listed by Just For Kicks (JFK), an organisation working with kids from low-income families.
Four were identified for a final trial where Sujal stood out for his skills and personality.
Rudro Sen, Mumbai City Head for JFK, explained: “The organisers allocated one position for each country. India was asked to send a goalkeeper in the 12-year-old category.
“We work in Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Pune and Mumbai, so from our database, we picked out players based on football ability and personal qualities. He was outstanding as goalkeeper and showed leadership qualities on and off the pitch.”
Sujal, who studies in Saibabapath Indigo School, is passionate about football since starting two years ago with kids from the neighbourhood, according to his father Sandeep Kahar. “He made me buy goalkeeping gloves and plays in the afternoons on return from school,” he said.
The parents were called to school and conveyed the news about their son’s forthcoming trip to Russia. “We were told to give permission since it is recognition for Sujal at 12 and everything is taken care of,” added the father.
The process to get a passport for Sujal is in progress, while school coach Chhagan Chauhan will put the lad through special training sessions to sharpen his goalkeeping.
Sandeep, Chauhan and Sen were present at the Cooperage when Henry Menezes, ex-India goalkeeper and CEO of Western India Football Association, handed over a pair of gloves to the kid.
“I always wanted to be in goal from the time I started playing. There is no reason, except I enjoy goalkeeping,” said Sujal, slowly getting familiar with football greats on television. Stars he remembers are Messi, Neymar, Ronaldo… all ace goal-scorers whose goalmouth moves are tracked by goalkeepers, even 12-year-olds.
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